Lidia’s Italy is one of my favorite cooking shows.  There’s no need for Smell-O-Vision, because her warmth and love of what she does brings you right in to her kitchen.  Her’s is sadly a dyeing breed of cooking show that teaches you how to cook, rather than just how to assemble food (not surprisingly she is found on PBS and not Food Network).  Her show is about technique and story, offering a cultural context for the food.

I have tried several times to make risotto from different recipes.  While it is lovely and creamy in the pot, by the time you get it to the table it has set into a gummy goo.  And after you have sliced off your portion, you are bored by the third bite.  A few months ago, I vowed, “Not this time!  No more recipe for crappy risotto!  A little Italian grandmother doesn’t need a stinkin’ recipe for risotto, she just does it... like Lidia!”  WWLD?  Low and behold, I channeled my inner Lidia and my risotto was luscious and creamy.  The rice was perfectly done.  It made it to the table and was still spoonable.

A couple weeks ago, I wanted to make ravioli for the first time.  Ugh, what a production, right?  I watched Lidia make ravioli in no time, so I said, “WWLD?”  My ravioli came together in a snap and were divine.

When she closed an episode on Maremma with a sage pudding, I jumped on it.  This sort of dessert is right up my alley, a lovely cross between sweet and savory.  On the menu we have a pasta appetizer that is sage, brown butter and hazelnuts, and I thought it would be fun to play with having the same flavor combination on the dessert menu to see if anyone would play along.  In this dessert there is the sage custard topped with candied hazelnuts and served along side, a brown butter shortbread (a recipe I found on lottieanddoof.com).

Sage custard of Maremma

Sage Pudding from Lidia’s Italy by Lidia Bastianich
1 quart of milk
20 fresh sage leaves
1/2 of a vanilla bean
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp cornstarch
A pinch of salt
6 egg yolks

In a saucepan, combine milk, sage leaves and scraped vanilla bean.  Bring to a scald, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.  Remove the pot from the heat, cover and allow to steep for 30 minutes.  In a bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt together.  Whisk in the egg yolks until light.  Strain the steeped milk, and slowly whisk it into the yolks.  Return to pan to the heat and cook gently, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Allow the pudding to bubble for a little bit, and then remove it from heat and pour it into a container.  Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.  Cool and chill the pudding to set.  Once chilled, give the pudding a good whisk to smooth it out and spoon in to serving cups.

Brown Butter Shortbread from lottieanddoof.com
(makes twelve cookies)
6 oz butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt and brown the butter, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk solids from scorching on the bottom of the pan (as the butter browns it will get foamy and smell nutty and oh so delicious).  In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, vanilla and salt.  Add the browned butter and stir with a wooden spoon.  Add the flour and stir to bring the dough together.  Transfer to 9” cake or tart pan and pat the dough out evenly.  Let this stand at room temp overnight (do not refrigerate).  Bake at 325º for about 20 minutes, or until it is golden around the edge.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Invert the cookie out of the cake pan (or remove the tart pan ring) and cut the shortbread into twelve wedges.  Place the wedges on a baking sheet and return to the oven to toast lightly.

One warning... these brown butter shortbread wedges are like the crack and meth of cookies.  Those little blue-tin butter cookies have nothing on these.  Once you eat one, you will eat all twelve.  Trust me.  It may seem frustrating— correction, it is frustrating to have to wait overnight to bake these (indeed I thought that this step was needlessly pretentious), but when you make the dough you will see why it will need to sit overnight.  This is also a blessing, though.  If these cookies were easier to make you would make them all the time.  Then you would lock yourself in your house making them and eating them.  You would lose all sense of whatever else is important in life.  Your friends would find you (only after your neighbors called the police to complain about the smell of browning butter and why they weren’t invited over to share) laying in a mound of crumbs, your eyes rolled back into your head, your tongue flopped out of your mouth drooling brown butter.  True, there are worse ways to go.